Learning a new foreign language is something we all aspire to do, but always find an excuse not to — too little time, no spare cash, lack of opportunity to practice. To all those doubting learners, Babbel presents very compelling arguments.
A Berlin-bred and globally used language learning app has not only democratized the access and cost of language learning but actually built a fun and effective experience. One that teaches you to converse with other fellow humans, rather than reciting century-old adages. Proof? Recent milestone of 10 million paid subscribers and a potential €1 billion IPO in the works.
As data-obsessed brand marketers, we can never pass on the opportunity to analyze how others build a strong rapport with target audiences. So let’s see what story Babbel can tell us.
The Backstory of Building Babbel
In 2007, Thomas Holl was nagging his friend Lorenz Hein to find some online app for learning Spanish. But a cursory scan over Google results proved otherwise — there was nada bueno. Just some textbooks, CDs/DVDs, and a bunch of private teachers, listing their services online. That got Thomas Holl thinking: why can’t I build that app?
Since then, Babbel underwent several iterations, morphing from an online course, to an e-learning portal, and then a sleek mobile app.
But one idea remains a pillar to the company’s product: there is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach to language learning. People have different linguistics backgrounds and learning preferences to account for.
As Holl explained in a BBC interview: “A Spaniard should be able to gain fluency in Italian quicker than a Swede, because Spanish and Italian have a lot in common as Romance languages related to Latin.”
Babbel's team spent a lot of time doing segmented consumer research and comparing notes across geographies. Based on that data, they created a signature roaster of online classes. All are designed for specific use cases (e.g. travel) and adapted to the learner’s background. Course content for Germans learning French is slightly different than one showed to Spaniards.
The brand’s rigorous investment in customer intelligence paid off. Last year, sales in the US and German-speaking markets boomed by 200%. Babbel capitalized on the pandemic-prompted trend of self-education we all jumped on. Moreover, the team saw a nice spike in corporate subscriptions to their B2B platform. Babbel for Business revenues doubled YoY too.
However, Babbel's success goes beyond favorable market conditions. The brand also has a strong understanding of its core target audiences — their needs, preferences, and pet peeves. They pack this knowledge into compelling brand differentiators, sinking in consumers minds’ like a hot choco sauce into a pair of new white jeans.
So what conversations happen around Babbel and how do they steer them? Using our brand tracking software, we analyzed Babbel through the lens of customer brand associations.
Why Measure and Moderate Brand Associations
Brand associations are characteristics customers retain about your brand. Think funky attributes, personality, emotions, and overall vibe you present to the world. Deloitte found 62% of consumers feel they have a relationship with a brand. About the same number (60%) also use emotional language to describe their connection with long-loved brands.
By developing positive brand associations, you plant emotional anchors within your target audiences. These, in turn, give them a good reason-to-buy and recommend. Mostly, brand associations come into play at the consideration and preference stages of the brand funnel.
Babbel, for instance, shares the same turf with freemiums apps such as Duolingo app, a bunch of similar paid online platforms and apps such as Rosetta Stone and Memrise, plus online language exchange platforms like italki and Lingoda pairing online tutors with students.
All of these brands share a similar value proposition. Yet, each has a set of strong brand differentiators and brand identity, making them more competitive. Using our software, we found that among general populations, Babbel has cultivated the following brand associations:
Alright, but how did Babebel arrive at these results? And what other brands in the space can do to spark the right conversations too? Let’s dig in.
Your Product Will Impact the Brand Associations
Starting with the obvious: if you are selling a substandard product or service, you cannot force desirable brand associations down your customers' throats.
But there are no universally perfect products either, right? What smart brand marketers focus on instead is determining the perfect buyer for what you are selling.
Goop is a prime example of a brand selling all-sorts of arguably useless lifestyle gizmos at a price. Nonetheless, the brand has a raving community of fans, oblivious to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle goofs. How so? Because Goop is good at pitching their products to perceptive audiences and ignoring everyone else.
In the case of Babbel, the company also has a clear-cut brand agenda: “making complicated simple”. They are obsessed with accessibility and curate the brand assets accordingly. And this works:
Babbel mobile app has a 4.55 rating on Google Play, based on 450,000+ reviews.
Their overall product rating is 4.6 on Trustpilot, based on 17,000+ reviews.
Most people comment on the ease of getting started with Babbel. During onboarding, new users are asked to add their age, native language, the reason for learning a new language and then select their proficiency level. The app will personalize the content accordingly and you are ready to roll.
Be it signing up for a live class or contacting customer service, dealing with Babbel is always easy. So it follows that most target audiences have “User-friendly” as the strongest brand association.
Takeaway: Your product’s strengths and weaknesses are like raw clay. You can mold them into the right brand positioning and brand messages to shape the audience’s perception of your product.
Consistency is Key to Forming Desirable Brand Associations
Apart from making their product deadpan easy to use, Babbel also strengthens that they are effective.
Their narrative can be summed up as: “Yes, you can learn a language with us to the point that you actually speak it. And we have a polished method to back that claim.”
Whenever you touch grounds with Babbel, you get to experience this sentiment: on their website, when seeing a TV ad, offline billboard, or even in a TikTok creator sponsorship. Speaking of which, Babbel did a very good job with reaching Gen Z consumers.
One of the brand’s sponsored hashtags, #learnwithbabbel, amassed over 1.4 million views. While individual creator videos rack up over 500K views and a ton of upbeat comments.
Source: @blairsbrainiacs on Tiktok
Babbel's biggest achievement is perhaps its users' perception of it as an effective solution. Per an internal survey, 87% of customers saw more success with Babbel than with another product.
Our brand tracking data proves that claim too. 41% of male and 37.5% of female learners associate Babbel with “effectiveness”. It's even more interesting to see that an equal share of beginners and advanced learners (33%) say the app is helpful.
Because educational products, especially language learning apps, tend to lose appeal at some point. As a NY Times correspondent notes apps like Duolingo are good for mastering conversational basics and writing best practices. But few let you graduate further than Lifestyle Conversation 101. You can’t learn to discuss banking regulations or astrophysics if that’s your jam.
Babbel has addressed this “plateau of language learning productivity” by recruiting 150 linguistics experts and native speakers to lead live teaching classes. You can choose your proficiency level (A1 to C1) and sign up for a class around a particular topic. Though there was no Astrophysics 101 in Italian, the last time we checked :)
Takeaway: Shuffling your brand narrative may seem tempting when you have many touchpoints with customers. Yes, personalization is important. But you should always check that your take-home messages align with your brand identity. You can’t be “result-focused” on one channel and then switch to being that “chill learn-how-you-like” buddy for the other.
Higher Brand Credibility Staves Off Price Sensitivity
When describing Babbel, “affordability” was the lowest scored brand association among users. Only 21% of females, as well as folk with high and low education, think of the brand as such.
While Babbel runs seasonal promotions (up to 60%), they do not actively advertise themselves as a “cheap way to learn a language”. That’s a good move. Because otherwise, they’d have to compete for bargain-seeking customers with free language apps. A race like that can dilute any brand.
Instead, Babbel settles for a “good price-to-value ratio” narrative. You can test-drive the app for free and then upgrade to a paid plan if you find it effective. Given that this is at check, it makes sense why Babbel became so good at growing its customer base.
Takeaway: Scientific research found brand credibility decreases price sensitivity among consumers across product categories. Use the available means to show that your brand solves a tangible problem and does so better than others before letting another discount offer out of the door.
Room for Improvement: Learning to Talk to Female Audiences
Despite being positively reviews, women are less sure of Babbel’s effectiveness, affordability, and fun factor as our data shows:
The above trend is interesting because statistically, women study more foreign languages than men. And gals also often outperform dudes in their rigor as one analysis of Dutch language learners found.
A possible explanation for this is the difference in learning goals. Men more often pick a new tongue for aspirational purposes, rather than work or academic interest. Thus self-paced, casual, and fun learning apps like Babbel fit better into their goals.
Women, on the contrary, often seek a more structured, guided learning experience. They are driven by achieving faster mastery to advance their careers or get fluent for other reasons. Respectively, some may discard Babbel as a more “basic” app that’s good for beginners, but not pros (which isn’t the case).
Takeaway: Secondary audiences are crucial to scaling your brand’s reach. Yet they may have somewhat different agendas. Analyze jobs-to-be-done for different segments to better understand what drives their brand consideration and usage patterns.
Emotions inspire and frame the depth of brand loyalty, as well as encourage brand advocacy. But forging ties with targets is often harder than assembling one-color puzzles.
Cultivating distinctive brand associations requires consistency and dedication. But the long-term investment pays off, especially for SaaS products. Improving customer retention rates by 5% can lend to a revenue boost of 25% to 95%
Babbel does a stellar job in activating and retaining the learners. They also centered their brand identity around the ideas of “simplicity”, “effectiveness”, and opportunities language learning provides. There’s still some polishing left to do on a more granular level. But that makes us even more eager to watch Babbel’s progress!
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